Glaciers in Greenland

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Jon Hawkings

The glacial valley in Greenland looks idyllic—peaks loom in the background and a picturesque river winds into the distance, its ultimate endpoint left to the imagination. Biogeochemist Jon Hawkings and colleagues spent a month in 2018 conducting fieldwork in this natural laboratory. “The sediment-rich river is the Isortoq River, which is fed by a catchment of the Greenland Ice Sheet called Isunnguata Sermia,” says Hawkings, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science.  “We camped near this river, taking samples for geochemical analyses.” From the icy glacial meltwater, Hawkings is trying to better grasp what he calls the cycling of elements through the Earth system. Such an understanding, he says, could reveal not only what role glaciers play today in downstream ecosystems but also how they have shaped the planet’s evolution. The work has taken Hawkings to some of the globe’s farthest reaches, from Patagonia and the Himalayas to remote outposts  of the Arctic.